Akwa Ibom PDP leaders troubled over mass defections


Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leaders in Akwa-Ibom State are making new moves to save party from continuous defection of its members to All Progressive Congress (APC), reports Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu

For the first time in over 16 years, Akwa Ibom State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is facing what some observers described as ‘its biggest threat ever,’ following the continuous defection of its members to the All Progressive Congress (APC). Concerned members, who commented on the development, said the leaders must do something fast if the umbrella wants to survive the threat of the broom in the traditional PDP state.

The development, which started shortly before the last governorship election in the state, assumed an embarrassing dimension last weekend when over 100 members in Governor Udom Emmanuel’s Eket Federal Constituency, including members said to be close to the governor and former top officials on the platform of the party, defected from PDP to APC. As a result, according to an associate of former State Governor, and now Senator Godwin Akpabio, the party leadership, at the behest of Akpabio and Governor Emmanuel Udom, has advised all ward leaders to look inwards with a view to resolve internal wrangling that may lead to further defections.

The Nation investigation shows that PDP leaders in the state, especially former Governor Akpabio and Governor Emmanuel Udom, are not taking kindly to the development as they have sworn to reverse the trend and retain power in the South-South state.

For example, when on January 19, 2017, Senator Nelson Effiong, who represents Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District, announced his defection to APC from PDP, Akpabio, who, as the Senate Minority Leader, has been leading PDP’s counter attack against defection of PDP lawmakers nationwide, was particularly angered. Expressing deep regrets over the development, he declared resolve of his party to reclaim the seat.

“I understand, maybe, due to political intoxication or otherwise, the senator has jumped ship and moved from this side to the other side. I need to let the Senate and the President know that in terms of the court decisions up to the Supreme Court, that it is not an individual who contests an election.

“It is a political party and, therefore, the moment somebody takes the mandate of a political party, it behooves on that political party to immediately take steps.

“We heard that this action was going to take place and we engaged the senator in various discussions and we showed him the implication.

“We must reclaim the mandate given to us and we do not mind the senator joining the APC, but, he will not go with the mandate given to us in Akwa Ibom State,” he said at the floor of the Red Chamber.

While announcing his defection at the plenary, Effiong had blamed “intractable crisis in the PDP” for his decision, adding that “no politician worth his onions should remain in the PDP.”

Since then, the battle to stop further defections has been intense as PDP leaders dish out marching orders to the party’s field men and APC continuous its bumper harvests.

Fallout of election disagreements

The Nation investigation shows that the current gale of defection from the PDP to the APC may be traced to the pre and post-election disagreements in the state and the way they were handled by PDP leaders.

It would be recalled that the first blow PDP suffered shortly after the governorship election, was when APC approached the tribunal to challenge the election which brought in Emmanuel as governor of the state. PDP was rattled when after weeks of legal battle; the tribunal nullified the election in 18, out of the 31 local government areas of the state.

At the appellate court, APC had demanded that elections in the entire state be nullified but the PDP queried the initial cancellation of election in 18 LGA’s by the tribunal and urged the upper court to set aside the election and declare its candidate, Udom Emmanuel, as governor.

The final court’s rulings notwithstanding, our investigation shows that most of the former PDP members, who defected to APC in the state alleged that they lost confidence in the ruling party in the state because of the way the leaders in the state bulldozed their way to victory, enthroning their chosen ones without giving any thought to the sensibilities of the common PDP faithful that have labored for years to nurture the party at the grassroots.

Dr. Wilfred Ekon, a youth’s activist in Ikot-Ekpene, who confirmed fresh moves to save PDP in the state, told The Nation that the party is reaping the seeds its leaders sowed in 2015. “We have been monitoring the utterances and actions of PDP leaders to the gale of defections to APC here in Akwa Ibom. If you look at it, either as a youth or as a progressively minded PDP member, it is really laughable. The leader, former Governor Akpabio, for example, threatened to reclaim Senator Nelson Effiong’s seat at the Senate, alleging that the mandate of the Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District was given to PDP and not to Effiong as a person. The question is which mandate? If indeed the people’s mandate was given to PDP and the PDP remains the same PDP we all loved and supported with so much passion and trust, then, nobody should lose a sleep over anybody’s defection. But we all saw what happened here in 2015. What they are parading as PDP mandate was stolen mandate. It was part of the confusion caused by imposition and other dictatorial practices of our leaders in the state. Is that not why they are still fighting amongst themselves in the case between Hon Bassey Etim and Senator Bassey Albert, both PDP candidates, laying claims to Uyo Senatorial District’s seat? Our people know and love PDP, but so much went wrong in 2015 and the leaders have not done enough to make amends. Until they wake up to realities, many more members will defect to APC here in Akwa Ibom.”

Crisis in PDP

Although most state chapters of the Peoples Democratic Party have recently blamed the party’s national leadership crisis for their current challenges, insiders said Akwa Ibom’s case transcends the national crisis. For the party, which has ruled the South-South state for the past 16 years, the defection of prominent members with their supporters has become a major source of concern, especially as insiders confirm disaffection at the grassroots. Already, accusing fingers are being raised as most defectors accuse the leadership in the state of being responsible for their loss of confidence in the party.

In fact, the party’s crisis in the state actually commenced shortly after the governorship and state assembly elections, as they were trailed by widespread condemnations.

Even official observers, both local and international, had said the elections were not credible due to wide spread violence and electoral malpractices.

Explaining the root causes of the crisis in Akwa Ibom politics, Ekon said on Friday, “the controversial circumstances surrounding the emergence of both Obong Umana Okon Umana of APC and Governor Udom Emmanuel of PDP as the candidates of the two leading political parties were at the root of what we are seeing today. Remember that two of them were former Secretary to the State Government (SSG) in Governor Godswill Akpabio’s administration and so you will understand the rivalries. Also, while Umana had to defect to APC a few days to the party’s primaries and as aresult had to ‘dislodge’ Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, who was favoured to pick the ticket then, at least, 22 PDP governorship aspirants openly protested the emergence of Emmanuel as the PDP standard bearer. They went to the extent of petitioning the party’s hierarchy to overturn the exercise. All these will explain to us why the political theatre in Akwa Ibom has remained tensed ever since then. I think the leaders must make specific efforts to resolve the thorny issues that arose from that 2015 pre-election maneuvers and the resultant election violence. Until this is done, the political scene will remain hot and more critical defections would be recorded before the next elections.”

Campaign to exit opposition

Although Akpabio, as the Minority Leader at the Senate, has remained firm outspoken in his defence of the opposition party, PDP, one of the main factors that have aided the gale of defections to APC in his state is massive campaign of APC leaders in the state for the people to exit opposition and join the ruling party at the centre.

Ironically, this campaign has been more audible and seemingly more effective in Eket and Ikot-Ekpene areas, where Governor Emmanuel and Akpabio hail from. Just last week, when over 100 former PDP members from Eket area defected to APC it was reported that the mood of people at the Nsima Ekere Campaign Centre, venue of the rally, was so high that the event was turned into a carnival.

The centre was filled to capacity, with many people hanging outside the arena to catch a glimpse of the defectors, who included former chairman of the PDP in the state, Chief Otu Ita Toyo, who hails from the same senatorial district as the governor, Udom Emmanuel; former senators, among them, Aloysius Etok, Helen Esuene; former members of the House of Representatives, including Esime Eyibo, former commissioners, local government chairmen, among others.

It would be recalled that apart from these latest defections, many PDP chieftains in the state have defected to the APC since 2015. The big names from the state that have defected from PDP to APC since then include Chief Don Etiebet, former member, PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Edet Nkpubre, former National Vice Chairman (PDP South-South Zone)  Otuekong Aniete Ekong, former PDP State Secretary, Robinson Uwak, former member House of Representatives, Eket, Obong Nsima Ekere, former Minister, Rita Akpan, former Deputy Governor and Leader of G22 Eket, Crysantus Ette, former member, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Eket Emmanuel Inwang, former member Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Eket, Engr. Iroigak Ikann, former Commissioner for Land and Housing, Dr. Effiong Edunam, former Commissioner for Education.

Commenting on the development, Evangelist Jonathan Udoma, who described himself as a PDP supporter said, “It should be instructive to PDP leaders today that the highest number of high profile defections currently recorded are from Eket and Ikot-Ekpene senatorial zones, where the governor, Udom Emmanuel and former governor Godswill Akpabio, hail from.

“Add this to the fact that about 13 former LG chairmen and several lawmakers from Ekot-Ekpene Senatorial District alone have defected to the APC, and you will agree with me that we have so much work to do in Akwa Ibom PDP. I am happy to confirm to you that the leaders are aware and have commenced moves at the ward level to save the situation. This weekend, I am aware that one of such crucial meetings has been scheduled in my ward. I think it is the same across the state,” he said.